Big executive fish in little company ponds

Many executives who have worked for large companies think about moving into smaller companies when they are laid off, fired, or just want to work elsewhere.

There are many mutual advantages to both the smaller company and the large company executive, who we’ll call “megexecs.” Smaller companies need to understand that megexecs come with some liabilities, as well as advantages. And the megexecs need to understand that some of their large-company thinking must change. Here are some examples of large-company thinking and some realities of working for smaller businesses.

1). Megexec thinking: Long term plans and extended executions. Megexecs are used to companies that have millions or billions of dollars to do long-term planning, so they want to lay out 5 year plans.

Small company reality: “Long term” often means making this month’s payroll. Extended plans will generate pointing and laughing. Small businesses are speedboats that need to turn on a dime, not cruise ships that can take time to develop something forever. Megexecs need to learn to think at the speed of change, not the speed of a tortoise.

2). Megexec thinking: Big budgets. I’ve noticed that, not only are the escapees from mega-corps mighty proud of their salaries, but that they also think money grows on trees.

Small company reality: Many are self-financed, and cannot obtain large sums of money for speculative pursuits, marketing or other things that large businesses take for granted. Many must do “guerilla marketing” and utilize creative solutions.

3). Megexec thinking: Perfection. Too many megexecs want to wait for something to be done until it is perfect. That is nice in mega-corp la-la land.

Small company reality: They must produce very good product, on time and within budget. Megexecs must learn when something is good enough, and stop refining and re-defining things to death.

4). Megexec thinking: Endless meetings, stake-holder buy-in, approvals, and so on. Large companies have the luxury of talking around things until everyone is happy.

Small company reality: Whatever plan you make is going to have to be endlessly re-written anyway as rapidly changing conditions force changes upon your business. This is not to say that plans should not be written, nor that things should not be discussed, but the whole process needs to be very rapid. Where megexecs are used to having weeks or months to plan, a small business may have hours.

5). Megexec thinking: Staff it out.. Many megexecs no longer know how to do the dirty work.

Small company reality: In a small business, everyone has to take a turn at “cleaning the toilets.”

6). Megexec thinking: Don’t take personal risks. In the mega-corp world, everyone is tip-toeing around so as not to step on other people’s tender feelings.

Small business reality: Go for it! Small business requires proactive people. Sometimes feelings will get hurt. That’s OK. They’ll get over it.

7). Megexec thinking: It’s okay to lose money. Megexecs are often used to being assigned a certain budget that they can lose, and still be okay.

Small company reality: Every dollar counts. There aren’t dollars to waste on retreats, planning exercises, or “blue sky.” Everything must give the small business a return.

8). Megexec thinking: Strong hierarchies. Megexecs tend to operate with a consciousness of strong hierarchies. They expect people to be afraid of them and, thus, obedient.

Small company reality: There really is very little hierarchy in small companies. Everyone is there for the same purpose, or better be. There are few “channels” to go through, and the CEO’s door is usually wide open.

9). Megexec thinking: There is always money. Megexecs are used to a situation where, if money is tight, management goes and borrows another million or 10 from the friendly banker.

Small company reality: Revenue is king, as a friend of mine says. Cash flow is everything. Especially today, companies need to generate a positive cash flow. Bankers aren’t very friendly to small businesses, even successful ones.

10). Megexec thinking: Research everything to death before acting.

Small company reality: Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks. Marketing, product rollout, advertising, etc. must often be done “on the fly.” By the time the marketing report is done, your competitor may already have product to market. Execution is everything in a small business. Reports, plans, and paperwork take a very back seat.

Megexecs certainly have experience and insight to offer small businesses. But they also have to learn that a small business is different in ways other than simply being smaller. It is a whole different way of doing business. If they can learn this, however, they can make wonderful contributions.

Join John and Nicole Heckers for a free class: “Why Am I Still Unemployed?” at the Denver Athletic Club, Monday, June 28th, 7-9 PM. Go here for more info and registration.
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